The protagonists in thrillers are often referred to as coiled springs because they, like coiled springs, are always ready for trouble and are poised to strike at any moment. Koistinen, the lead of Aki Kaurismäki’s new film “Lights in the Dusk,” is like an old Slinky, played with so long it’s bent out of shape and lost all elasticity. It’s only good for sitting around and getting tossed around by cruel people, which is essentially what poor Koistinen does for 80 minutes. But then, “Lights in the Dusk” has all the requisite elements of a thriller, except the actual thrills. Kaurismäki plays the story for pathetic tragedy rather than excitement.
Kaurismäki name-checks Chaplin in the press notes, and Koistinen, played by Janne Hyytiäinen, brings a hint of the Little Tramp’s sadder side to his performance, the way his searching eyes gaze longingly at a good-looking woman or a juicy steak. He’s dropped into the middle of a classic film noir set-up, replete with femme fatales, spiked drinks and the form’s three “L”‘s: larceny, loneliness and lust.
Koistinen works as a late-night security guard and spends almost all of his time on this earth alone. He’s one of the most miserable characters you’ll ever meet in a movie theater. His search for companionship leads him to Mirja (Maria Järvenhelmi), a blonde temptress in the employ of some gangsters in need of a patsy. Koistinen allows himself to fall for Mirja and then allows her to frame him for her bosses’ crimes even after he gets wise to her scheme. It’s a little off-putting to see a person — even one as defeated by life as Koistinen — march into his own demise, but it makes a little more sense once he actually gets thrown in jail and we see Koistinen, happy for the companionship of his fellow inmates, smile and laugh for the first time in the picture. You know your life’s a mess when incarceration’s actually a step up.
Apathy and resignation don’t translate to grand drama particularly well, and “Lights in the Dusk” isn’t really all that dramatic. But that wasn’t Kaurismäki’s intention. He set out to complete a trilogy about losers — the first two installments were 1996’s “Drifting Clouds” and 2002’s “The Man Without a Past” — with a story of loneliness, and no one could fault his execution in that regard.
“Lights in the Dusk” opens in New York on June 13th (official site).